Bears needed to bring back rock of offense

May, 19, 2014
May 19
1:28
PM ET
Brandon Marshall made it clear in March that "one way or another, they’re going to get the deal done,” and the Chicago Bears made good on the receiver’s optimism Monday by signing him to a three-year extension that brings his total compensation up to $40 million over the next four years with $23 million guaranteed.

No doubt about it, Chicago made the smart play by signing Marshall, who hasn't shown any level of drop-off in terms of production on the field, yet appears to have grown by leaps and bounds off it.

On the field, Marshall comes off a 2013 season in which he gained more than 1,000 yards receiving for the seventh consecutive year while producing his fifth 100-catch campaign. Despite coming off arthroscopic hip surgery going into the 2013 season, Marshall still outmuscled the opposition for 1,295 yards receiving and 12 touchdowns.

Marshall is the only player in the NFL to put together 1,000-yard receiving seasons in each of the past seven years, and the only player in the league with 80 receptions in each of the past seven years. Marshall is tied for the NFL record with five 100-catch seasons (2007-09 and 2012-13), and is the first player in NFL history with 100-catch seasons with two teams (Denver and Chicago).

Over the past two seasons, no player has seen more passes thrown his direction than Marshall (355 targets), according to ESPN Stats & Info. Attempts to Marshall represent 34.2% of the team’s targets, which ranks as the highest individual rate in the NFL during that span.

What’s scary for defenses headed into 2014 is Marshall isn’t in rehabilitation mode this offseason. He’s in Florida training to improve strength, speed and stamina. What’s more, he's hosting several teammates for these brutal grind sessions. That's where the off-the-field component of this extension could prove most beneficial for the Bears.

He's emotional. And he has shown bouts of immaturity in the past.

But now, Marshall knows how to control his emotions for the good of the entire team, and has taken on a role as mentor to the younger players such as receivers Alshon Jeffery and Marquess Wilson. In the past, Marshall wanted Pro Bowls. Now, he wants a Super Bowl.

In eight seasons in the NFL, Marshall still hasn’t played in a postseason contest. He's hungry to do that now probably more than ever, and he’s taking teammates along for the ride, teaching many of the younger players on offense how to train, how to eat, and how to properly maintain their bodies through proper recovery techniques to help them get through the wear and tear of a 16-game season.

[+] EnlargeChicago's Brandon Marshall
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhThe Bears have extended their top wide receiver in Brandon Marshall, a veteran who has caught 23 touchdowns for Chicago the past two seasons.
When the Bears hit the field for organized team activities May 27, you can expect to see an enhanced level of crispness in the passing game. No. 1, the Bears will be operating in coach Marc Trestman’s system for the second consecutive year. If you go back to this point last year, the Bears didn’t even know exactly what they’d be doing on offense and the majority of this time was spent installing the scheme.

No. 2, the passing game should be enhanced because of all the time spent among the skill-position players in Florida with Marshall. Even quarterback Jay Cutler attended, along with many of the offensive linemen. In addition to all the on-field work and training in the gym, Marshall and the rest of the players spent copious amounts of time together just hanging out, judging from all the pictures he and teammates posted on Twitter.

That off-field interaction is paramount to building team chemistry, and part of the reason the Marshall extension goes beyond what he provides on the field.

It’s natural to wonder how the team will handle the impending new deal for Jeffery, who in 2015 enters the final year of his rookie contract. But remember, the Bears found a way to get Cutler his money, and found a way to bring on Jared Allen, in the process of totally revamping the defensive line. The club will make the necessary moves to keep Jeffery in the fold, too.

Let's not forget Chicago has turned over the roster dramatically since Trestman came on board Jan. 16, 2013. The offense seems to have finally turned things around to become one of the league’s better units.

But that wouldn’t be possible without the rock of the offense, which is precisely what Marshall is.

Michael C. Wright

ESPN Chicago Bears reporter

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